Thirty-Six Ways of Looking at Toronto Ontario

Original Text: 
Phyllis Gotlieb, Red Blood, Black Ink, White Paper: new and selected poems, 1961-2001. (Toronto: Exile Editions, 2002): 120-29. PS 8513.O77R33 Robarts Library
2see my house, its angled street,
3east, north, west, south,
4southeast, northwest, there are
5no parking places
7we came in those years on the overnight train
8from New York City along endless
9lines of shimmering poplars
10pounding on doors six am Customs yelling
12poplar and all the
13noble trees, oak, maple,
14Maytime's chestnut in its candles
15gingko, elm and ash
16stand in their shade lace at
17the height of June
18on the white winter
19streets, fir-trimmed, display their
20wrought-iron armatures
21naked they are so thick you cannot
22see through them the
25cloudward & the Bank of Commerce
27stands humbled
29furnished with the bust of
30Sibelius in black granite
31the wind sings his song
33whether the wind is harsh or gentle
34Uncle Max lies
35among his three wives
36Bébé, Didi and Claudette
38a crocodile of children trail
40bald spot & waving arms
41harangue his Legislature
43roars in his narrow pool, his fur
44stained yellow from city
45smoke and filthy water
47sign of ten thousand bulbs
48blooms in a white bud
49flares into petals and green leaves
50fades and grows again
51from the front lawn at
53I watch the sun go down
54over the wall of Woodbine Racetrack
55trailing firelined clouds
56and feel the glory of the ineffable
57-- real or a dream?
59eight years old and happily-hoppiting
60around the ancient stout cane-tottering
62thinking (this is God's truth) I bet she wishes
63she was a carefree little child like me
66over the furrier shop my grandfather's
67Yiddish tells my father's English the story
69last week in Aesop about the
71writing senior fourth exams
72(it's eighth grade now) three months
73before that War with boys who'll die in it:
74the summer window's open
75there is a world out there, and it cries:
77strawberry ripe!
79and bobsleds ran longside the Dirty Don
80now rivers of cars run with clean
81bright-eye lights. I look crossyears
83where B15's lamplit. Hello, child!
85a young black man barechested in boxer
86shorts dances down the street shadow-
87boxing while his dog yips around him
88two black men dandling a
89gurgling blond baby
90laugh and talk on a park bench
91a deaf-mute
92talking to himself
93in sign language
95when I got home I found her in bed
96with 2 other guys,
97the cabbie says
98I just stood there watching them, I couldn't
99believe it
100on the boardwalk the tall Texan in his stetson
101falls into step with us, says: howdy ma'am, sir
102the bus window frames a crowd
103pressing a woman who has stolen a hat --
104its tag dangles -- pushing it in her face
105two helmeted
106police converge on her terror
107the old man plunks down beside me and
110I cool him down with english
114police cars lead and follow
115it's kind of different, the cop admits
116this is a dream: it is midnight
117I put my head out of the window and see:
118down my street where the young home-
119steaders have grown old or died
120and their hopscotch children skipped off
121a brass band thumping oompah-tubas &
122twirling majorettes
123I think: I've got to get out of the suburbs
126neon diacritical marks
128once the rag trades sewed their sequined dresses
129Come on, I'll outfit you from top to bottom
130cousin Hymie said
131on Eglinton west of Bathurst
133first time out after the operation
134the waiter stares at the bones and says
135You sure know how to eat a chicken
138gables was where bad-tempered
139Professor Wadson lived, redfaced, sweet-
140wived, a drinker of fine whiskey, but
141where I live now at Lonsdale's other end
142and watch the red moon rise I can't see
143Wadson's house (he was young once, his
144photo said, and handsome in Navy blues)
145he's dead & gone now, & his whiskey all drunk up
147almost truly north to Hudson's Bay, but
148striding parallel beyond his classy mistress Avenue
150the farshlepta wife who guards
151our spring and winter rituals, birth & death
152hospital, church and synagogue, she's a
153strong, ugly and no nonsense roadway rising
154out of Toronto Harbour, no Venus either
155among the boating not quite yachting clubs
156using a swath of iron bridge to cross the
157braided tracks of the railways yards past
158factories and warehouses, pauses
160the Hospital I was born in: there's my
161mother-in-law Jenny Bardikoff: Poison and
162garbage they give you here in little round pills!
163Better than the food! cries proper Mrs Scrimgeour
164What a life we're living, Jenny!
165cracking each other up joking to death
167His lights are shining!
168How we admire his sign's designing
169with cheerful face he sells us trinkets & theatrics
170and ever en famille in lamplit eateries
171for modest sums we eat his steaks his peas,
172his mashed potatoes
173with not bad wines
174and crusty waiters
175So sparkle on at Bloor & Bathurst brightly!
176We love you always, Ed! And not just lightly
178is homeliness of ailanthus, gingkos and red bricks
179wrapped in trellised rose-bines, a
180hologram chip of an old city's whole
181the old woman sits down beside me on the bus
182at Eglinton, quietly, this one
183and I think: Manya? I'd met her
184long ago in the hospital hoarding
185the scraps of food, crust, half a potato
187has stopped. There was, there is no cure
188for Manya's fifty-year disease of grief: Eat salt,
189my mother said, if you have nothing else.
190Eat salt.
191Manya, is it you? I am so afraid
192I let her get up and go without a word
193foursquare flat-topped
195slid along the road on her shoulder
196ten feet back from that car's headlights Let her
197live, God! kept those dirty ragged clothes on the
198living room book shelf until she came home
199up at the Jewish Home
201women on the patio sitting heads canted
202& mouths agape except for
203my mother in her wheelchair
204Good sunny day, I say
205Yeah, my mother says, all the old
206flowers are out
208just skirting edges of green lawns, sweet flowers
209past those synagogues, weddings made and broken,
210vows taken and shattered, nights of lit candles
211and memorials, past those wards of white beds and
212trembling nights, past the strip malls where glatt
215sent him to heal
216out farther yet and up
217where if you are drifting
218in a balloon at sunset
220through barrel hoops, among kite strings and
222the city's swathed in haze, in its vision
223not magic or majestic, it is a gathering
224of human beings among the trees, it is the city


1] stacked: circling in the air, waiting to land. Back to Line
11] At the US-Canada border, officers would board the train and wake up everyone for identity and customs check. Back to Line
23] The Royal Bank Plaza, two triangular towers, the tallest 40 stories and 591 feet high, has 24-carat gold in its 14,000 windows. It is located at 200 Bay Street, at the corner of Front Street. Back to Line
24] Built in 1976, the world's tallest free-standing structure at 1815 feet, 5 inches, located on Front Street on the shore of Lake Ontario. Back to Line
26] Restored as Commerce Court North, 34 stories and 477 feet high. Back to Line
28] In Sibelius Park, at the corner of Lowther and Brunswick Avenues in the Annex in downtown Toronto, there is a statue of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius sculpted by Wäinö Aaltonen. It was set in place in 1959. Back to Line
32] Agudas Achum Cemetery, that is, Roselawn Cemetery, at 619 Roselawn Avenue, two blocks east of Bathurst Avenue. Back to Line
37] Queen's Park: the name of the provincial legislature building, just north of Toronto's College Street bisecting University Avenue to the south and Avenue Road to the north. Back to Line
39] Mitchell F. Hepburn: Liberal premier of Ontario, 1934-42. Back to Line
42] Toronto's first zoo, 1894-1974, now Riverdale Farm in the old Cabbagetown district of Toronto, at 201 Winchester Street. Back to Line
46] One of a chain of Canadian Oil Co. gas stations, bought out by Shell Canada in 1963, famous for their elegant architecture and beautiful emblem. Back to Line
52] Just south of the intersection of Lark Street and Kingston Road, and north of the intersection of Queen Street and Kingston, in east Toronto. Woodbine Park is on the south side of Queen at Kingston Road. Back to Line
58] Thoroughfare running north from Lake Shore Boulevard east of Bayview and the Don River valley. Back to Line
61] Queen Mary (1867-1953), consort to George V, king of England, and mother to King George VI. Photographs show her wearing big-rimmed hats with flowers and feathers. Back to Line
64] Queen Street, an east-west thoroughfare through the heart of old Toronto. Back to Line
65] Edward Hopper (1882-1967), American realist painter, well-known for imaging cityscapes and lighthouses. Back to Line
68] George Orwell's Animal Farm (1946) tells a story of a farmer, representing Czar Nicholas II (Russia's last monarch), who was dethroned by the animals. Back to Line
70] Cf. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's story of the fisherman whose wife wanted to be an emperor. Back to Line
76] Cf. Thomas Campion's poem "There is a Garden in her Face". Back to Line
78] Riverdale Park: between the Don River and Broadview Avenue, north of Gerrard Street East. flashers: men who expose themselves. Back to Line
82] A little east-west street between Broadview Avenue and Ingham Avenue, just south of the Danforth. Back to Line
84] snaps: snapshots. Back to Line
108] The Yiddish Art Theatre, 189 Second Ave., at 12th St., New York City (1926-32), had many imitators, including ones in Toronto and Montreal. Back to Line
109] Hydro: electricity, power. Back to Line
111] Hassidim: Hassidic jews, a pietist and austere sect. Back to Line
112] shtreimlach: fur-trimmed hats. Back to Line
113] Rebbeh: rabbi. Back to Line
124] old Toronto thoroughfare from Lake Ontario northwards, one centre of the city's fashion (once clothes-making) and Chinese communities. Back to Line
125] ideographs: Chinese characters. Back to Line
127] dim sum: Chinese appetizers. bok choy: Chinese vegetable (brassica chinensis) sometimes called white cabbage. Back to Line
132] Monte Carlo Ristorante, 1028 Eglinton Ave. West. Back to Line
136] Chas Addams: Charles Addams (1912-88), well-known cartoonist whose ghoulish drawings of the "Addams family" were published often in The New Yorker. Back to Line
137] Lonsdale Road, east-west residential street north of St. Clair Ave. West, and east of Avenue Road. Back to Line
146] Yonge: Toronto's main south-north thoroughfare, reputed to be the world's longest street, running from Lake Ontario to Rainy River, 1900 km north. Back to Line
149] Westwards from Yonge Street, main south-north thoroughfares march to cross Bloor, the main east-west street: Bay Street, Avenue Road, Spadina, and Bathurst Street. Bay Street is the city's financial centre, and Avenue Road the upscale shopping area, but at Spadina and points west the city becomes multicultural and residential. Back to Line
159] Western: Toronto Western Hospital, 399 Bathurst St. Back to Line
166] Honest Ed's: a working-class bargain store at 581 Bloor St. West in Toronto, established by Ed Mirvish in 1948, and for decades a neon-lit extravaganza of flashing lights and joking self put-downs like "We feel shopping should be an entertaining experience. `How cheap can a guy get? Come in and find out.'" It welcomes everyone with the invitation, "Come in and get lost!" Back to Line
177] Dupont: east-west thoroughfare running from Jarvis Street to Dundas Street, characterized by old, homey, proud working-class brick houses separated from the street by little, often well-kept gardens. Back to Line
186] Auschwitz: three linked Nazi concentration camps in Poland (1940-45), Auschwitz-Birkenau-Monowitz, in which over 1.1 million European jews were murdered in gas chambers. Back to Line
194] Branson Hospital, North York, Toronto (opened 1957 and merged with North York General Hospital in 1998). Back to Line
200] Jewish Home for the Aged: 3560 Bathurst St., North York, in Toronto, opened in 1957 and rebuilt in 1968 and 2000. Back to Line
207] Steeles: major east-west thoroughfare north of and paralleling Highway 401 across the top of Toronto. Back to Line
213] glatt kosher: approved meat from animals whose lungs were "smooth," lacking adhesions or defects (see Exodus 22:30). Back to Line
214] Centennial Park Snow Centre at 256 Centennial Park Rd. Back to Line
219] Hokusai seeing Fuji: Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), Japanese master who produced a set of landscape woodblock prints named "36 Views of Mount Fuji" (1823-1831). Back to Line
221] the Great Wave: one of Hokusai's greatest images, a monster wave about to engulf two ships. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
Special Copyright: 

Copyright The Works: Collected Poems of Phyllis Gotlieb Calliope Press 1978